I am formed by the liturgy of camp; by singing to music led by amateur guitarists, pianists, and bongo drummers. We sat on a worn hardwood floor and listened to chaplains tell the stories of their lives and of God’s action in the world, all the while whispering to one another about what came next, telling secrets and laughing under our breath into a space made holy by our half attention and full presence. Each week, we gathered, still seated on that hardwood floor to share a cup of wine and a plate of bread, passing it from one set of dirty, sweaty hands to another. We would laugh and whisper, having no idea what we were doing, but knowing, somewhere, somehow, that this was set aside time. But also, perhaps, that it was time connected to all the rest- to the games, friendship bracelets, canoe trips and picnics where we would sit under shade trees and imagine a different kind of world, to the old table in the back of the main gathering room where generations of us would secretly carve our names into the soft wood with ballpoint pens knowing without knowing that we were a part of something bigger than ourselves. My understanding of church is still rooted under those shade trees, still carved into that old table, still sitting criss-cross on that worn hardwood floor, laughing and learning what it means to be the body of Christ together.
Jesus came to earth to live among us with his heart wide open. He came to love, because “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and “the Father and I are one.” (John 10:30) At the Last Supper he told his friends that “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Living so fully in love led to Jesus’ heart being broken, over and over. He saw children going hungry and elders being neglected. He saw people with disabilities banished from their communities and so-called “outsiders” demonized. He saw systems of power supported by violence, making a few people rich at the expense of many others. He knew that none of this was God’s will, and it broke his heart.
Jesus called his disciples to “be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.” (Acts of the Apostles 1:8) That means that we, individually and as communities, should love as Jesus did. It means that when children in school or elders in a food store are gunned down by an assault rifle, our hearts will be broken. Again… and again… and again.
Jesus was known for working miracles, right? The Gospels say he healed hundreds of people, fed huge crowds with just a little bread, walked on water and calmed a storm. Those “signs” made him stand out from other teachers and spiritual leaders.
For some reason, the Creator’s miracles don’t get as much attention. We often take for granted the way day follows night, the changing of the seasons, the cycles of birth and death and new life. Taken to an extreme, science can seem to reduce all of that to a mechanical system, meant to sustain its human operators. One of our most basic sins (meaning “separation from the Creator”) is acting like we’re in control of the world.
As churches emerge from pandemic practices and take a fresh look at the way we used to do things, many are pondering what aspects of the past two years might carry over or influence our liturgies ahead. Some are committed to continuing worship online one way or another, some are challenged by the thought of returning to the common use of a common chalice. Some are wondering how they will exchange the Peace. The hand sanitizers that appeared in abundance in 2021 are sliding into the shadows. In all these things, the church is being given an invitation to enrich and expand its liturgical practices and understanding. Will we accept the invitation?
Ablutions, ceremonial washing of the priest and people, have been part of worship, or preparation for worship, for centuries. Jews, Christians, and Muslims, all have traditions of washing hands, face, and even feet, before prayer. Many Episcopal Churches maintain the ancient custom of keeping a bowl of baptismal water by the entrance to the church for people who want dip their fingers and sign themselves with the cross upon entering the nave. In addition to reminding worshippers of their baptism, this practice is a remnant of the medieval hand-washing before the Eucharist. Another tradition is the use of a lavabo bowl, held by an acolyte who then pours water over the celebrant’s fingers after the altar has been prepared and before the Eucharistic Prayer. Often, while engaging in this symbolic washing, the priest recites a verse from the psalms, “I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O Lord” (Psalm 26) or “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” (Psalm 51).
Do you believe in the mission and work of your church? Would you like to help your church ensure that it can serve people for years to come? If you answered yes, then you believe in the benefits of an endowment. An endowment provides financial support that can impact your community far into the future. It can build the vitality of your church and create stronger bonds with your surrounding community through the ministries your church creates and supports.
If your church wants to discuss if this is the right time to start an endowment, contact ECF’s Endowment Management program at firstname.lastname@example.org
What does it take for a community of faith to see itself in a new way, or to believe that its neighbors could find value inside old red doors?
Episcopal churches in Indiana, small and large, are finding that it takes a type of boldness rooted in knowledge of the good they have to offer: Good mission, good faith, and good space. Self-awareness about these assets is being awakened through the Church Buildings for Collaborative Partnerships project (CBCP).
Funded by a Thriving Congregations grant from Lilly Endowment, CBCP is underway through a partnership with the Episcopal dioceses of Indianapolis and Northern Indiana, along with two other organizations: Partners for Sacred Places and Indiana Landmarks. All 82 Episcopal faith communities in Indiana have the opportunity to participate, each with a team of three to seven clergy and lay leaders.
Congregations within the Episcopal Church tend to be loners. We seldom interface with our neighboring Episcopal churches and are often detached from our diocese. While we celebrate similar milestones and struggle with the same challenges, it is rare for congregations to collaborate continuously for ministry.
In 2015, a collaborative ministry was formed within the Diocese of New Jersey to address the challenges and the unique needs of the ten historically Black congregations. The members of this ministry include clergy and lay leaders from these congregations and a Diocesan staff liaison. This ministry was named the Commission on Black Ministry (COBM).
“This can be the next rector’s problem,” I said to myself.
A silk dossal curtain hung behind the altar at Church of the Holy Communion in Memphis. It measured almost twenty feet tall and fourteen feet wide – a royal blue damask field with gold bands and appliqued image of the ascending Christ. Wippell made the curtain for us in the early 1950s, shortly after Holy Communion moved to its current site. The dossal presided over every Eucharist, offered hope at every funeral, and appeared in every wedding and graduation picture for three generations. But, it had begun to show its age: The fabric was threadbare and the porcelain tone of Jesus’ skin reflected the artistic sensibilities of a former age.
My wife and I had the pleasure of spending Holy Week and Easter in Abilene, Texas, where our son, David, is rector of Church of the Heavenly Rest. In addition to spending delightful time with our three granddaughters, we attended multiple church services with moving liturgy, inspiring preaching, great music, and lots of people. Everyone seemed so happy to be together and, after two years, have “normal” celebrations. Due to the ruling of a federal judge, the mask mandate was lifted on our flight back to New York – yet another indication of normalcy.
Based on anecdotal evidence, it seems as though Heavenly Rest was not unique and that most Episcopal parishes enjoyed robust holiday services which has generated some excitement, enthusiasm and even optimism. Was this just an Easter “flash in the pan” or an indication of new vitality? Might this mean that the pandemic slump in church attendance is finally behind us, and people will be coming back to church as before? Might we even be turning a corner when it comes to numerical decline?